California High-Speed Rail Project Receives $200 Million from Biden Administration

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The California High-Speed Rail Authority (CAHSR) announced on Saturday that it has received a grant of nearly $202 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation to expand the construction of the high-speed rail project in the state. This is one of the largest pieces of federal funding awarded to the project in its history and a sign of the strong partnership between the state and the federal government.

What is the California High-Speed Rail Project?

The California High-Speed Rail Project is a visionary plan to build a 520-mile electrified rail system that will connect the major cities of California, such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and San Diego, with speeds of up to 220 mph. The project aims to provide a fast, reliable, and environmentally friendly alternative to driving and flying, as well as to create jobs, spur economic development, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The project was approved by California voters in 2008, when they passed Proposition 1A, a bond measure that authorized $9.95 billion in state funding for the project. The project also received $3.5 billion in federal funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and the High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program.

However, the project has faced many challenges, such as cost overruns, delays, lawsuits, environmental reviews, and political opposition. The project’s original cost estimate of $33 billion in 2008 has increased to $80 billion in 2020, and its completion date has been pushed back from 2020 to 2030.

California High-Speed Rail Project

How will the $202 million grant be used?

The $202 million grant was made through the federal 2022 Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) program, which is part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed in 2021. The grant will fund the design, right-of-way purchases, and construction of six grade separations in the city of Shafter, about 18 miles northwest of Bakersfield in Kern County.

A grade separation is a roadway that is re-aligned over or under a railway to eliminate hazards and improve safety and mobility. The six grade separations that will receive funding are:

  • Poplar Avenue
  • Fresno Avenue
  • Shafter Avenue
  • Central Avenue
  • Lerdo Highway
  • Riverside Street

These grade separations will eliminate street-level crossings at intersections along a busy freight rail corridor, preparing the local community for the arrival of high-speed trains and reducing crashes and injuries. They will also improve air quality by reducing idling and emissions from vehicles waiting at crossings.

Construction on these grade separations is expected to start in August 2025 and be completed in August 2028.

What are the benefits of the high-speed rail project?

The high-speed rail project is expected to bring many benefits to California and the nation, such as:

  • Creating up to 20,000 jobs per year during peak construction and 10,000 permanent jobs once operational
  • Generating up to $40 billion in economic activity and $1 billion in tax revenue per year
  • Reducing travel time between major cities, such as from Los Angeles to San Francisco in less than three hours
  • Providing a more affordable and convenient option for travelers, with fares projected to be lower than airfares and comparable to driving costs
  • Enhancing connectivity and accessibility for rural and urban areas, as well as for disadvantaged and low-income communities
  • Reducing congestion and pollution on highways and airports, saving up to 10 million hours of travel time and 320,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year
  • Supporting the state’s goals of achieving 100% clean energy by 2045 and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030

What are the next steps for the high-speed rail project?

The high-speed rail project is currently under construction along 119 miles in the Central Valley, from Madera to Poplar Avenue in Kern County. The Authority has also cleared environmental hurdles along 422 miles of the Bay Area to Los Angeles segment, which will allow the project to advance to final design and construction.

The Authority’s 2020 Business Plan outlines the vision and strategy for delivering the high-speed rail project in phases, starting with the Merced-Fresno-Bakersfield interim service by 2029, followed by the San Francisco-Merced and Bakersfield-Anaheim extensions by 2033. The Authority’s goal is to complete the full 520-mile system by 2030, operating the largest and fastest high-speed rail network in the nation.

The Authority’s CEO, Brian Kelly, expressed his gratitude and optimism for the project’s future, saying, “With the southernmost 22-mile stretch of active construction due to be complete this fall, this latest federal commitment represents a major step forward in our effort to deliver passenger service in California. We look forward to this continued partnership with the Biden-Harris Administration.”

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